Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

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Helping hand lent to quake victim

The Pakistani girl didn't speak for six full weeks after an earthquake ravaged the northern regions of her country.

When the 10-year-old finally did talk, she told Las Vegas surgeon Dr. Ikram Khan that a large pillar had fallen in her classroom during the quake. It stopped short of crushing her but did wedge her between the ground and piles of debris, where she remained trapped for 24 hours.

She huddled in the cold and dark, surrounded by dead playmates until rescuers pulled her from the rubble. Then she learned that her mother had been killed when the family's house collapsed.

Khan recalled the girl's comments after he returned from his native Pakistan, where he had gone after the Oct. 8 disaster. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 80,000 people and left about 3.2 million homeless. An estimated 7,000 schools were destroyed, killing about 17,000 students, ages 6 to 16, Khan said.

"I was very moved by the attitude of this little girl and others who simply said what happened was 'God's will,' " said Khan, a father of three grown daughters.

"I did not see despair. I did not hear people ask why did this happen to them or feel sorry for themselves. They accepted what happened and asked, 'Now what can we do to rebuild and move on?' "

Khan made the two-week trip as a member of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Board of Regents, an advisory body to the secretary of defense.

Before he left Las Vegas on Dec. 14 as part of a 10-doctor contingent from the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America, Khan and others held a fundraising dinner at a local hotel, where they collected $300,000 for humanitarian relief.

Khan disagrees with critics who have said that America's humanitarian response to Pakistan was inadequate because the Christian-dominated American society views Muslim Pakistan as an unfriendly nation.

"I could not disagree more," Khan said. "The American people's donations were most generous at a time when we were said to be suffering from donor fatigue following more than a year of responding to other disasters.

Iranian-born U.S. citizen Mehran Tamadonfar, chairman of the Political Science department at UNLV, agrees that while financial assistance to Pakistan victims was down from donations given to the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina funds it was not because Americans viewed Pakistanis as the enemy.

"I do not think that we would not give just because the victims were Muslims," Tamadonfar said. "Let's not forget that many of the victims of the tsunami were Muslims and Americans helped them. The assumption of friendly vs. unfriendly did not apply here. The issue was timing.

"Last year there were so many disasters. Pretty much the American public was exhausted. The earthquake happened on the heels of a very difficult year."

Khan said the earthquake occurred near Afghanistan in areas where radical fundamental groups got to see each day that Americans reached out to help.

"Many of the extremists saw what the Americans were doing to help, and I believe our presence had a positive impact on them," Khan said. "I feel it dramatically changed some of the opinions they had of Americans.

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